John Tracy: Alumnus Shares Path to Executive Career in Aerospace

John Tracy (Class of ’76, B.S., physics), vice president and chief technology officer at Boeing, returned to California State University, Dominguez Hills to speak to students from his alma mater and the California Academy of Mathematics and Science on Nov. 21 in the Loker Student Union. The Gardena native presented “My Journey: From CSU Dominguez Hills to Chief Technology Officer at Boeing,” reflecting on his education at the university and his ascent to leading approximately 100,000 engineers, manufacturing personnel, and computer scientists at the world’s largest aerospace company.

Laura Robles, dean of the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, said that the campus community was happy to welcome back one of its successful alumni, who also served as a keynote speaker during this spring’s commencement exercises.

Returning alumnus Tracy (seated at center) was greeted by former instructors and current faculty. L-R, standing: John Price, chair and professor of physics; Jim Hill, associate professor of physics and chair, Academic Senate. L-R, seated: Sam Wiley, emeritus professor of physics; Tracy, and Frank Miles, emeritus professor of mathematics

“It’s really wonderful when he comes back to talk to the students, faculty, and staff about his experiences,” said Robles. “It engages the students and helps them realize what they can be. It’s really wonderful that he’s achieved so much and can spur our students on to greater things.”

Tracy began his talk by thanking two of his former professors, Frank Miles, emeritus professor of mathematics, and Sam Wiley, emeritus professor of physics. He greeted the assembled students and encouraged them to see that a successful career in the aerospace industry was within their reach.

“I started out just like you did,” Tracy said. “Hopefully, you’ll be able to see how if you have [aspirations] in this same area, that you can do this sort of thing as well.”

Tracy spoke on the rapid development of aviation technology in its first 60 years, encompassing the era of the Wright Brothers to the first jet engine in the 1930s, breaking the sound barrier with the Bell X-1 in 1945, and the Boeing 707, the first commercial jet, which was produced in the early 1950s.

“In one person’s lifetime, we went from not being able to fly at all to have people go to the moon and back,” said Tracy. “That same sort of progress is happening today. And one of the challenges you face as you go through your educational career is the pace of the technology. Your challenge is going to learn how to learn, so when you’re done with school, you’ll still keep up with these changes.”

Tracy described the advent of commercial flight as a means to unite the nations of the world.

“The world has really changed because of these airplanes,” he said of Boeing’s family of commercial jets, from the pioneering 707 to the corporation’s newest airplane, the 787. “People can go from one part of the world to another in an affordable way in [a way] that they couldn’t do before…  developing relationships and literally making the world a better place.”

Tracy also recalled the importance of the university’s site, which in 1910 served as the location for the first air flight exhibition in the United States – and inspiration for a young William Boeing.

“The Boeing Company, the biggest aerospace company in the world, would not exist if that air show had not taken place at Dominguez Hill,” Tracy said. “[Boeing] was inspired to do something that had never been done before. And I think that can be your story too. You can have good ideas and you can create things in the future that don’t exist today.”

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